Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I have taken many a video clip during this trip. Here's a fun one...

Cheers and happy training!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Island Excursions

Tour Guide Time On this, the week before I return home, I am happily playing tour guide to Rob on Saipan, an island I will always consider my second home. Since his arrival, we have had a great time. Following his immediate introduction to Saipan on Sautrday morning with his first triathlon, we have been taking in all that Saipan has to offer. From World War Two landmarks like the last command post, where the Japanese retreated as the u-s allies made their attack....

To Saipan's most somber sight, Suicide Cliffs, where thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians jumped to their deaths following surrender....

Being a tour guide is a lot of fun. Transportation? Mountain Bikes.

Green Flash Me

If you plan to visit a tropical destination, you must be on the lookout for the "green flash" sunset. I referring to the flash of green that sparks after the sun sets over an ocean horizon.

Now I have watched many sunsets on Saipan, but I can only attest to seeing a handful in the two plus years I lived here. Conditions have to be near perfect, meaning the sunset has to be devoid of clouds.

So as things looked ideal, I decided to have my hand at documenting this "green flash" some consider lore, though I knew as truth.

On Monday, green flashed, ever so appropriately on St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday night was a teaser. Oh, but it so doesn't matter.

Cheers and happy training!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Relay Reunion and Saipan Sights

Crash Course Last Wednesday, following two amazing weeks in Vietnam, I returned to Saipan for the final leg of my trip. Ass early Saturday morning, Rob flew in to meet me. It took him 24 tiresome hours to get here. And when he arrived at 4am Saturday morning....two hours later, sans sleep and apparently loaded on Scotches from his houston/tokyo flight, he was racing in a relay triathlon with me in Saipan. What a sport. Now a 2000 meter swim on any other day would be a no brainer for Rob (he swam competitively up until college), but try that after flying and drinking all day. So after the first 1000 meters, after looking like he was going to puke coming out of the beach, I finished the next 1000 meters and proceeded for my 37 mile bike ride. It's Saipan. And this was no USAT race. A relay is a relay, whatever way you want to do it. Rules are bent here. So long as we finished. Now I figured the two of us would call it a day after my bike ride (which, by the way felt really good, especially considering I was sooooo not trained!), but when i got off my bike, there Rob was , ready to run 9.6 miles. Only he got "Saipan" lost (meaning the police officer directed him the wrong way) and added another mile and a half to the run. He finished strong! Congrats to our first relay triathlon together, and to teamwork! Home sweet home Part of my island tour with Rob is to show him my old living quarters. While it was quite simple, it was also quite idyllic. He agreed.

Cheers and happy training!

"Perserverence is a great element of success. If you knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Saigon Send off

Birthday Bash Saigon Family Style
My final day in Saigon also happened to be my birthday. At midnight, March 10th, Saigon time, I was also on the phone with Rob, so I received my first birthday well wish. That was nice. Saigon time is 13 hours ahead of Texas time.

Now, I have never been one big on birthdays. Something to do with the celebrating yourself thing has always felt a bit strange. And as ironic as this seems, the center of attention part and adoration from others also feels wierd. I know, I worked in TV news for years. It's part of the reason I got out.

Having said that, my Saigon Vo family insisted on throwing a party. So that morning, Uncle Thanh got all the goods, including food, drinks and chairs, and by 7pm, all of my aunts, cousins, etc gathered at the house to feast and celebrate. He’s so awesome.
I had originally offered to take everyone out, but since my grandmother is too weak to leave the house, I’m glad we decided to have this family gathering at home. I didn’t want to put any of my relatives out, so I paid for the feast. I gave him about 95 dollars. That fed 20 people! The following
I can’t even remember the last time I had a birthday party like this. Maybe childhood??
Now, I have learned a lot about my Vo family on this trip, but I also learned something HUGE about me. I’m a younger woman than I thought.
34 not 35???
Yep, according to my uncles I was born on March 10th 1974, NOT 1973! So that would make me 34 and NOT 35. (Although in Vietnamese custom one’s birthday occurs at conception, meaning I’m a few months shy from being "35").
How could that be?? Well, when my parents immigrated to the US I did not have my birth papers and I guess 1973 was inadvertently written. I plan to have a talk to them about this one.
So comes the dilemma…. should I tell people I’m 34 or 35? Legally, I am 35. Realistically I am 34.
But like Ironbabe Jane, I am officially in another triathlon age group… that 35-39 bracket. Is that a good or bad thing? I’m not sure yet, since I have not signed up for a race lately. Does this mean I’ll be cheating?
I guess I should relish that I am a year younger. That means I graduated from high school at 17, not 18, and college at 20, not 21 (I was one of those nerdy 3 year plan students). Oh I was drinking, as Rob so aptly pointed out, at 20 not 21.
And no wonder I’m not wrinkling yet. :)
Airport Adieu
Saying goodbye to my Saigon family was kind of rushed. At the airport, I had a small ticketing issue, so it was quick
Maybe it was good. I probably would have cried had I more time to say goodbye. I was joined by three uncles, my Aunt Thuy and a few cousins.
I like to say there are no goodbyes. I’ll see them again soon enough.
I’m heading back to Saipan, via Manila. I’m looking forward to getting in some good,hard workouts. Then Rob comes in Friday night.
Oh yeah, I have a triathlon race this coming Saturday in Saipan.
Rob swims the mile swim, I bike 36 miles, and we’re not sure who will do the 9 mile run. (He’s injured and my knees STILL hurt).
Im sooooo not ready.
Cheers and happy training!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Vung Tau Beach or Bust

Saigonese Gone Sunning On Sunday morning, my Aunt Thuy, her husband Thanh and Aunt Thu all headed to Vung Tau, a popular beachside community south of Saigon. What is usually a 2 ½ to three hour road trip takes one hour and some change by way of ferry. The ride winds its way through the Port, which oddly, looks a lot like the Port of Houston.

Anyhoo, the ticket costs 140,000 dong , about eight bucks, so at that price, my family had never ridden it. I offered to taken them, since we could all enjoy the day, and it was the quickest way to get there.
Helping Hands On that note, I want to talk a little bit about generosity. In the Vietnamese culture it is understood that family helps family, and that includes everything when it comes to expenses.
If someone gets sick, if someone needs something, then it’s family duty to dole out the dough.
And the wealthier you are, the more you should pitch in. It’s just the way it works.
So while I am soooooo far from wealthy, it’s understood I pay. My mother has been sending home money to her family since they reconnected after the Vietnam War. And since I am here, I have an obligation to give money to each of my mom’s uncles and aunts.
It’s not a lot, but money goes a long ways here.
Currency Caveat
If it seems I am constantly quantifying things I do by cost, it’s because I am. It’s a reality check for me, a reminder of just how spoiled and good we have it as Americans. We take so much for granted.
A dollar here is up to a day’s salary. It’s wierd because I am soooooo far from rich, but here money goes a long ways.
Having said that, today was family day, and the weather was nothing short of perfect.
Getting off at Vung Tau’s port we were greeted by transportation. We jumped onto rickshaws, since they were cost less than a buck to get us to the beach.
We did take a quick pitstop to see the 200 year old whale bone remains. Story is that a fisherman had a a fierce battle with him at sea.
The bones are kept inside the back of a buddhist temple.
Much respect is paid to them as a way to protect the Vung Tau local fisherman
Beach Bankin
Besides being flocked by throngs of tourists, Vung Tau is also a fishing community. More recently it has been deluged by oil tankers. This is where tradition meets modern day capitolism.
Here's the other sign that things are good in Vietnam.
The beach was packed with locals.
I mean, there had to be thousands of Vietnamese people here. It was nice to see that in spite of their everyday living, there does exist recreation time. And semblances of capitalism proliferate these areas. Lottery tickets and KFC?

By the way, I'm told working at KFC is a job that while many in the US would turn their nose on..... it's a coveted one here.

Modern and air conditioned, and up two a whopping 2 US dollars a day? I’ve never met friendlier fast food staff.

Lounging Local Style

Now when it comes to seeing my family, I do as they do. And that means hiding from the sun under an umbrella. Vietnamese women HATE to get sun. Something to do with working in the rice fields...meaning you are poor....

Also, the vietnamese, primarily the women, are VERY conservative. I did not see one woman in a bathing suit swimming. They did sell those bathing suits with skirts, but the water didn’t look inviting anyways.

So lounging at the beach, in the shade, we rested and ate crabs. My family balked at paying 180,000 dong (11 bucks) for two HUGE fresh crabs.

I didn’t. We ordered up a feast. How often can you get these for this price in the US??

Around 3:30 in the afternoon, we headed back to the port, where we would learn the tickets on the ferry were sold out.

So for two uncertain hours, we waited to get on board, hoping there would be no shows.

We BARELY made it after my uncle learned about some scalped tickets being sold on the street corner. I mean, we literally jumped on and the ferry started moving.

When my parents used to live in Vietnam, they would frequent Vung Tau beach on the weekends. My aunt told me some really nice stories about coming here with my them, and how at the time, I was just a tad too young to go.

I thought about them quite a bit on this day.

Maybe I’ll take them here soon.

Cheers and happy training!

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Going all the Hue At 4:00am Thursday morning, with bags packed, I went on the road, headed for what was supposed to be a 2 ½ hour drive to Nha Trang, where I would hop onto a plane headed to Danang. I needed to head north to Hue to meet up with my Aunt and visit the “north” side of the Vo family, and this was the “quickest” way to do this. My 8 hour journey to the coastal community of Nha Trang was not what I expected, especially since I paid 70 US dollars to have a private driver take me there. The drive was more than my one way ticket to Dalat! So my hike and bike tour guide Tuyen insisted he set up this trip. Major mistake. He failed to mention to my driver I needed to be at Nha Trang’s airport by 7:50am. So my 2 ½ drive turned into 4 hours, with my driver speeding like hell on wheels to get there. It was mountainous, bumpy, wet, foggy and downright the scariest drive I have taken. And he was even lost at one point. Luckily I made it to Nha Trang’s airport with 45 minutes to spare. But it was the worst money could buy. And my day was just getting started.
Danang Distress
Landing into Danang, I needed to hire once again another driver to take me to Hue, which was roughly another 1 ½ hour drive. I had it in my mind that the ride would cost me about 40 US dollars…that’s what I had read it on the internet. After leaving the airport, I was immediately accosted by throngs of taxi cab drivers promising that amount. One young man actually promised me 500-thousand dong, which was 31-dollars! Steal! I’m whisked away. Only as we are driving that number goes from 500,000 dong to 670,000. I refused and demanded he take me back to the airport. He then demanded I pay the fare (a buck) but I refused, saying he bilked me. It wasn’t the money, It was the fact that he agreed on one price and in a matter of 10 minutes, changed it twice. So my cabbie kicked me out of his car in the middle of town. I probably stuck out like a sore thumb, standing there sporting a backpack, and a small roller luggage, figuring I would just flag another cabbie. Then a friendly young local on a moped asked me if I needed a ride. At first, I balked. But when it appeared getting a cab on my own would be tough, I hopped on, luggage and all. “How much? “ I asked. “Whatever,” he said. So I agreed. Back at the airport taxi stand, I learned the going rate was more. Then one of the cab drivers suggested I head down the road to get into a shuttle van to head to Hue. Its only 100-thousand Dong ($6.25). No worries. So my moped driver rides me over there, and before I could step off his bike I’m hastily hoisted into a van loaded with locals, pay my fare, and for all of his work, I gave my cyclist 100-thousand dong. He was elated. That’s a day’s work for 30 minutes for him. And for me, it wasn’t first class service but I saved 30-bucks, although I probably wasted an hour in Danang. Seriously, there were 18 people loaded into an old shuttle van suited for 11. But even with that many, the driver and his friend were trying to stuff as more people, screaming out to people as were slowing rolling along if they needed a ride. In Vietnam, money matters by each 1000-dong (7 cents-ish). A US Dollar here goes a long ways. I later learned that fare for locals was around 30-thousand dong, less than 2 bucks. I got the premium rate. Big deal, it was still cheaper than a 40 dollar cab ride. It wasn’t a great ride, what with 18 people packed like Sardines. And the driver was another devil on wheels. But it got me to Hue. Only when I got to the bus station I still needed to get to the airport. That’s where my aunt (who I had flown in from Saigon) and my Hue relatives were going to meet me. At the bus station, I paid 30-thousand dong (about $1.25) to a local man with a moped to take me to the aiport. It was about 6 miles away. Here's a self portrait on that man's moped.

And my long morning of travelling would end when my one of my Uncles and second cousin would take us home, and ironically on mopeds once again. So after nearly 8 hours, after a few close calamity calls, my commute by car, plane, shuttle van and moped would finally end. I’m home. Creature Comforts I’m staying in the heart of the city, much like the Times Square of Hue, at my Aunt and Uncle Binh’s home.

Uncle Binh is the son of my Great uncle Oc. Since I never knew my maternal grandfather, Great Uncle Oc is as close as he gets.

He is my grandfather Vo’s younger brother, making him the oldest Vo family member, and the patriarch of this family. Great Uncle Oc doesn’t just have the sweetest smile, but at 87 years young, he has led a fascinating life. I had some time to bond with him ten years ago, so seeing him was very nice. He was a decorated general for the North Vietnamese Army, serving from the time the French were exiled until 1975 through the Vietnam War, and on that side, victory.
Crazy but true, I have family on both sides, meaning both sides of the Vietnam warfront.
Among other things, my father served as an Army Captain in the South Vietnamese army, and consequently, my family fled Vietnam to escape persecution from the North Vietnamese Army. At that time, my family didn’t know this Vo side of the family, since my grandfather lost touch with his Hue family after moving south to Dalat and ultimately to Saigon to work, marry and raise a family. After the Vietnamese civil war got underway, Grandfather Vo lost all communication with his Hue family. He was working in the south, and his family was all living in the north. Once those borders were drawn in 1956, that was it. I learned during that trip that his many brothers would not learn grandfather Vo died at age 40 in 1960 until 1978, three years after South Vietnam fell to North Vietnam. Crazy but true, it was only then that my mothers older brother would finally get the opportunity to find Grandfather Vo‘s family. My Aunt Thu tells me there was an extremely tearful reunion, and ultimately my grandfather’s ashes would be sent to Quanh Binh, about 3 hours outside of Hue, where dozens of Vo’s are buried, dating back to the 1600’s. Yes that’s more than 4 generations of Vo’s. So that’s the story of how the southern Vo’s reconnected with the Northern Vo’s. An ugly civil war that changed everything kept them apart. The end of that war brought them together, and ultimately, me…here. On the Vo side, my immediately family would be the only ones to immigrate to the u-s. Now I do have a second cousin (we call my uncle) who moved to work in Germany post Vietnam war. Uncle Long is an extraordinary man, going from contract worker busboy to successful restauranteur and hotellier in Deutschland. He apparently shares his wealth to the Vo’s here in Hue, who are all doing extremely well by Vietnamese standards. Truth be told, I harbor no ill feelings against this northern Vo family. If anything, I find their loyalty to family beyond all else quite refreshing.
We speak little of our sentiments about the war . Great Uncle Oc once told me the past is the past. In my family’s case, you really have to put it behind you, otherwise how could you ever get along? And they were nothing but open to the southern Vo’s when they all finally met them, and years later, my mother and me. In fact, I feel right at home, and I am so grateful for that. This visit has centered on family…and a lot of food. I think I tried and ate everything Hue I could. Each morning was breakfast. Then it was lunch. Then we would take a nap. Then we would eat dinner.

The Vo’s were incredibly hospitable.. I loved just lounging and eating. I learned on this trip that theVietnamese not only have a strong sense of family, but they possess great patience.

Not many Americans, in their busy, everyday worlds, can just sit around all day and talk with family. I only had two nights in Hue, and I am remiss I didn’t have more. I wanted to spend some more time with Uncle Oc, but I guess that will have to wait for the next time. I did however, document some of his story…one I hopefully can share with my children. I promised my relatives my next trip here would be sooner than years later. After all, my Great Uncle admittedly doesn’t have a lot of time left in this world. Cheers and happy training!

Dalat's DHL Lagacy

Larry's Bar On my final evening Dalat, I decided to go head “down into town” (my hotel is on the hill) to check out The Sofitel Dalat Palace Hotel and a bar fondly named “Larry’s Bar” for good reason. Even 13 years after his death, homage is paid to “Larry” for effectively saving this 1920’s high end French hotel from destruction. Larry is credited with also having the vision to put Dalat on the map for foreign travel at a time when Vietnam’s tourism industry was virtually nonexistent. I’m sure he would be very proud to see the fruits of his labor, not just with the hotel, but also with other development projects he had going across Vietnam. I didn’t know Larry, but I know his story all to well. When I lived in Saipan , I used to work for TV station that was part of a holding company in largely owned by “Larry.” He died in May 1995, less than a year before I arrived. But Larry wasn’t just any Larry. He was Larry Hillblom, an eccentric billionaire who moved to Saipan to escape paying Uncle Sam his fortune. You would know Larry as the “H” in DHL He founded it with a couple of buddies in college. Actually, DHL started the air shipping business. There would be no Fed Ex without DHL. The guy’s professional life is impressive. His personal story is wildly interesting…the stuff movies are made of. Apparently Larry had a penchant for young, virgin prostitutes, several of whom would father his children. Larry apparently was not much for condoms. In the end, DNA tests would prove Larry fathered kids from Palau, three from Vietnam and one from the Phillipines. After he died there was a hard fought legal struggle for his estate. He willed everything he owned to UCLA for medical research. But his kids wanted the dough. So after years in a Saipan probate court ….. (insert Chau’s involvement here: young, hungry reporter, interviews parties involved in “Hillblom” case, lawyers, experts and even my “bosses”… can we say conflict of interest?) Larry’s billion dollar estate (that included the Dalat property) was ultimately dissolved, and everyone, including UCLA, the kids, lawyers and parents, got a slice of that billion dollar pie. Oh and how did Larry die? In a plane crash near Saipan. His body was never recovered, so lawyers fought over the mole he had removed following his first plane crash (yep, he survived the first one) , and for some reason, still kept at UCLA. Getting his DNA was key to this. I could go on and on about the zany stories I heard about Larry as well as details of his case (everyone in Saipan had some connection). But suffice it to say if you visit Dalat, come to Larry’s Bar, and you now know.

His story is also spelled out in the menu. But don’t expect to see the darker Larry Hillblom story shared. Cheers and happy training!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Dalat Day 4

Solo Sentiments Travelling alone has its benefits. Go as you please, do as you may, eat as you want, etc..... It also has its setbacks. You are alone. And today I really felt it. Even though I did have some company today.... today's 5 hour ride around Dalat's picturesque Liang Bian Mountain was spent with my A-OK guide, Tuyen... Outside of that, for the last four days I've been hanging out with primarily....mmmm... me. Not that I get lonely (I really like the person i'm alone with), but today I was feeling a little homesick. See, when I decided several months ago to set out on my world adventures, I didn't expect and to fall in love in the process. It was still important for me to travel, we agreed. But I have also chosen to shorten my stays. I will be apart from Rob for three weeks by the time I see him again.

So I had one of those days when I just couldn't seem to enjoy myself. Even as beautiful as the forest trails were, I couldn't shake it, and Liang Bian mountain just became, unfortunately, another day on the bike. Not to mention it was cold and rainy and my bike was too big, but oh well....
Oh and some of the trail was wicked steep.
Homesick or lovesick or both?
Tomorrow I will be reconnecting with my family in Hue. My alone time is over.
Cheers and happy training!
Oliver Wendell Holmes - “Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dalat Day 3 and Auspicious Encounters

Tiger Talk
One of the wonderful privileges about travelling is the people you meet along the way. Today I met Annette and Tuyen.
Annette is an incredibly interesting and engaging woman from Copenhagen, Denmark. Last year she quit her job as a nurse to work for free for three months at a Thai orphanage.
Since her stint there ended in late December, she has been travelling solo exploring Southeast Asia.
Vietnam is her last stop, following time spent in Cambodia and Laos.
After this, she's heading for New Zealand for two months. Europeans are quite the globetrekkers. She's my hero.
Tuyen is a 29 year old college student studying Business at the University of Dalat. He is originally from a tiny farming community in North Vietnam. He graduates in one year. And like many college students, he has a part time job.
Tuyen is a trekking guide for Hardy Adventure tours.
Today Tuyen was matched up with Annette and me. We were the only ones today to sign up for the 19 KM "Tiger Falls" hike.
The nearly 12 mile hike took us up, down and around the La Ba River, which surrounds this 1700 KM high mountain.
Don't ask me to convert this. All i know is that parts of this hike felt high and steep.
Our trek was aptly named "Tiger Falls" (Thac Hang Cop) in honor of a tiger who had inhabited this area three decades ago.
The tribal communities knew him and apparently worked around his feeding schedule.
He lived in this den next to the falls. Then one day he disappeared.
So lore has it he died in the forest. Though I wouldn't be surprised if he was shot and poached.
The Vietnamese are known to hunt anything alive. Not trying to cast aspersions on my peeps, just sayin' that in the past, animal skin has been known to surface at the market.
Anyhoo, to this day, much homage is paid to him.
The trek took us through some neat terrain, including some man-made suspension bridges. Not the safest bridges in the world, but they worked.

Now if you were afraid of heights, you would have been in trouble.
No really, one misstep and you're toast. I'm not so much afraid of heights so no worries.
We also passed several veggie and coffee plantations, owned by the government and harvested by the villagers for a small fee.
Our halfway mark found us picnicking at a along the way. Tuyet fed us yummy french bread sandwiches with cucumbers and tomatoes and laughing cow cheese (French influence). We also had a few pastries which we gleefully nibbled.
Then on top of this mountain we had a short visit with a tribal hill community who call themselves the Lieng Tro tribe.
Only a handful of families live here, and there is no running water or electricity.
So while we spoiled Westerners worry about our manicures and get pissed that our TIVO ran out of space to record our favorite show,
The Lieng Tro people are just concerned about their next meal.
Really. These are not pets. They are being raised, much like chiken are, for supper.
It was quite surreal today, hiking to the top of the mountain , to be greeted by abject poverty.
Afterwards, our trek down began.
Dalat Dine-in Dinner for Two, but for one
Even though I much prefer those dollar dinners served on the streets, I can be quite the recluse when it comes to travelling alone and eating dinner.
The last two nights I have ordered room service. It's astronomically expensive by Vietnamese standards, but a hell of a deal otherwise.
Last night I ordered a 12 dollar feast...a four dollar bowl of soup and an 8-dollar plate of lemon grass chicken and rice plate. Now remember, this is a five star restaurant and the best in town.
Tonight I splurged and ordered the seafood hot pot.
At 20 dollars a person, with a minimum of two people, that's 40 bucks. But nothing else on the menu sounded good, and since my trek cost me just 20 bucks (meals included) I thought, why not?
Oh, it so beat any Fleming's steak.
In this medley included prawns, octopus, clams, crabs, and basa fish, a local favorite.
Not to mention fresh veggies galore.
I was in Vietnamese hot pot heaven.
Actually I have been in Vietnamese food heaven.
This was today's complimentary breakfast at the restaurant.
Vietnamese noodle soup or pho served with a basket of croissants and fresh fruit. Ooh and the coffee!
Whether it be culinary or outsdoors, it comes down to experience. I don't collect things (you should see how little I packed) , but I do hoard experiences.
Hey look teammates, it's a Vietnamese girl in a Sugar Cycles team jersey in Vietnam!!!
Seeing the world..... connecting with people.......
those are the things that count, at least in my world, which right now is not just half a world a away....
but it strangely feels like home.
Cheers and happy training!
"Write in your heart that everyday is the best day of the year." - Ralph Waldo Emerson